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Swedish Culture

Claws Out: Simmering Debate on Crayfish vs. Crawfish

June 27, 2024 By Darby Johnson

In the world of crustaceans, the terms “crawfish,” “crayfish,” and “crawdads” can stir up some confusion. Are they all the same clawed sea dweller with 8 legs or different creatures? Or more importantly, which one tastes the best? 

Let’s start with the basics: Crawfish, crayfish, and crawdads are all the same, commonly known as freshwater crustaceans. The choice of terminology often depends on where you live. In the bayous of Louisiana and Mississippi, “crawfish” is the preferred term, while up north and in Sweden, they’re referred to as “crayfish.” Meanwhile, West Coast residents or states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas lean towards “crawdad.” 

These miniature-looking lobsters call various freshwater habitats home, including lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers. Some species thrive in flowing waters, while others live in swamps, earning their nickname “mudbugs.” 

If you’re eating crawfish in the southern region of the United States, you can expect a classic crawfish boil: mounds of crawfish on a table with a trashcan in the middle surrounded by corn, sausage, potatoes, and the distinct, aromatic combination of cajun spices.  

In Sweden, crayfish (kräftor) take on a different cultural significance. The tradition of the Swedish crayfish party (kräftskiva) traces its roots back to the early 20th century when over-fishing threatened the crayfish population. Regulations were implemented to save the crayfish, marking the first week of August as the official harvest season. Swedes embraced this occasion as a chance to celebrate, indulging together in crayfish boiled in beer and seasoned with dill.  

While the once-plentiful crayfish in Swedish lakes and American waters now dwindle, the tradition of gathering remains. No matter how you prepare or refer to your clawed meal, everyone can agree they’re meant to be shared with friends on a warm day. Today in Sweden, people still gather to enjoy this delicacy, usually accompanied by a typical selection of bread, cheese, refreshing beverages, colorful hats, and plenty of singing! A cheer of Aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian alcohol infused with caraway and other spices, adds a spirited touch to the festivities and traditions.  

At the American Swedish Institute (ASI), crayfish is celebrated as a cherished tradition with an annual Crayfish Party in August–expect to eat them the “Swedish way”! In the ASI courtyard with a full view of the historic Turnblad Mansion, guests are invited to indulge in this delicious food, lively music, and the fun of newfound friends. Wear your special hats and bibs, raise a toast with Aquavit, and join in the spirited rendition of classic drinking songs like “Helan Går.” 

The lingering debate over which version reigns supreme remains subjective to one’s hometown allegiance. As for this author, a recent transplant to Minnesota from the South, there’s only one answer: Please use a heaping amount of Tony Chachere’s seasoning.